Friday, July 22, 2011

Traveling with an infant

Last week we took our first family holiday abroad. Yes, we did already go back to the US with Crosby so it wasn't her first international trip, but this last week was our first vacation where we were not going to stay with extended family, etc.
Before Crosby came along, Scott & I had been maximizing our time off of work to travel as much as we could while we have been living over here in Europe. We have grown to love traveling more than we ever thought we would. We knew our travels would not cease once we had a baby, but we did recognize that we would probably slow down a bit since traveling with an infant is not as easy as just traveling with two adults. Luckily for us, Crosby seems to be a good traveler - she is quiet on the airplane, the pressure of the flight doesn't seem to bother her too much, she doesn't have car sickness while driving on windy roads, and she seems to be interested in her new surroundings so she likes to take in the sights in new places. She is still at a good age where is "portable" and isn't eating food yet so it is a bit easier on us for now.

The one part that has changed and that is not as portable is all the GEAR that comes along with a baby. How does such a little being require so much stuff??? In reality, we do not bring that much extra "stuff" for Crosby but on this last vacation we could see the difference when we rented a car. With a car seat, stroller, baby, plus all of our luggage, we knew we would have to upgrade the size car we needed for the week.
Beyond the car seat and stroller, the other "gear" items required on this trip included: a travel cot/"pea pod" for a sleeping location (the house we rented only had one baby cot and there were two babies so we needed an extra bed for one baby - it can double as a sun shade for baby since it has UV protection), an inflatable swimming ring for the pool, baby bjorn carrier, a baby monitor, two baby bottles, bottle brush, sterilizer bags, and of course an assortment of baby clothes, burp cloths, bibs, and more.

While the gear is much greater than we have been used to for travel purposes, it is manageable and we are slowly learning what is necessary and what is not. The part of this trip that was not expected when we thought about traveling with an infant was the airport and airline issues we encountered this time around.

The day we flew to France, we went to the airport in advance of our flight and proceeded through security as we usually do. We are pros at pulling out our liquids and knowing what will set the alarms off, etc. So in advance of the scanning machine I told the security agent that I had breastmilk in a cooler - bottles for my baby. These are completely legal to bring through for flights and I have already been through three major airports (including this airport, BHX, which we were going through again!) and have never had any problems with Crosby's bottles.

After our bags and items went through the scanner, we got pulled aside for further inspection. (expected since we were traveling with milk for a baby). The security guard asked me to taste the milk. [a side note - the UK will ask you to taste breastmilk, but the US will NEVER have you taste it because since the US is such a litigious society, you could poison your own milk and then sue the airport for having them ask you to taste it! Insane.] After I tasted it and all was fine, the security agent noticed the freezer pack I had to keep the milk cool. The agent then proceeded to tell me I could not keep the freezer pack and it was considered to be a liquid so it would have to be thrown out. I questioned this response because I had already flown THREE times with this freezer pack and it was never questioned and furthermore how was I supposed to keep the milk cold for baby Crosby without it (plus it was a special pack made to keep the bottles cool)? SHE didn't care. (I really thought it was 10 times worse since the agent was a WOMAN and had to have had some compassion). She told me freezer packs were only allowed for medicine and milk was not medicine so she threw it out, in front of me. It took Scott to almost pull me away to not completely loose it over this issue. There are so many reasons I was upset about this interaction and way it was handled but I was most upset about the milk I was carrying potentially going bad before Crosby could consume it.

Fast forward to the week we returned from our trip. I was frantically searching online for information regarding the rules and regulations for taking breastmilk on an airplane. Apparently the TSA in the US has a very clearly stated policy about this topic on their website: breastmilk is considered to be in the same category as medicine, so freezer packs ARE ALLOWED. In researching this topic, many women have said it is best to print out this specific site to show to security agents if you encounter any problems when traveling. I will do so for my future trips within the US, however I could not find such information for the UK policy. Consquently I am writing a letter to the airport team to inquire about this topic. I also called Medela - the company who makes the breastpump and freezer pack - they were GREAT! I told them about my experience and they sent me a new replacement freezer pack for free and are looking into the airport guidelines for me.

As if the start to this trip didn't cause me enough of a headache with the security screening debacle, then we went to board our bmi baby flight and we surrendered the stroller and car seat at the gate to be gate checked. I inquired with the flight attendant as to when we would be able to collect the items when we landed. Her response was "at the side of the airplane when you land." Because I had a weird feeling about things, I grabbed the baby bjorn and put it in my carry on bag just in case. I was glad I did! Sure enough, we landed in France and had to board some buses and were shipped to the main terminal where we had to walk for eons to get to baggage claim....all WITHOUT our stroller for the baby! And then amazingly enough this happened AGAIN to us on the way back from France to the UK and we had the same responses from the airline staff again.

While the airline staff didn't seem to know their own policies regarding gate checked items, the airplane was also ill-equipped for babies. Unfortunately we learned the hard way that although bmi baby airplanes are always filled with families (and lots of babies!), they are not baby friendly. NO BABY CHANGE in the bathrooms. Why??? The airline attendant said to me "I know it's silly but sorry, we just don't have any." She offered me the jump seat where the flight attendants sit, which was very nice but unfortunately kept flipping up and so it was not a very secure space to change a baby.

I knew traveling with a baby would have its own set of challenges but these were not the expected kind. Needless to say, I am composing a few letters of feedback for the airport and airline to inquire about these issues encountered....

1 comment:

andrea said...

We have traveled a lot with our son between the UK and the US, and in Europe and in the US, and now our daughter, and I think we have been on maybe 4 planes with a changing table. It is so bizarre to me that they don't have them.

And, especially on BA, we have to basically beg them to put our Maclaren on the plane because we know if they don't it comes out with the luggage.

I have had to taste so many bottles in the UK as well, there really needs to be some uniformity across countries!